11 February, 2008
By Col. Riaz Jafri (Retd)
Recently only one page out of the purported seventeen pages of the BB’s will was made public, and it has created a furore not only in Pakistan but also on the horizons much beyond. A lot of heat is generated for and against it in the local and international print and electronic media discussing its edict, intentions and appropriateness. The other pages of the will have not been disclosed on the plea that they deal with the family matters and personal belongings, properties and wealth of the deceased leader. This is not very convincing as the very purpose of a will is to inform all as to how the departed soul wanted his/her moveable and immovable assts to be distributed among the heirs. There should be nothing secret about it unless there is something in it that is to be kept away from the government and the public. After the death of a person, the will becomes a public property and not a personal document. If the will is expected to be binding (even morally) on the members of peoples party, then it should have been in the custody of her lawyer, duly signed and sealed, and should have been read out publicly by her lawyer as an official will. This is particularly more so in the case of a leader of Benazir Bhutto stature who belonged more to the people and the party than to the family. A page out of it should not have been in the custody of her beneficiaries and read out by the 'interested parties'. In my opinion that piece of paper had no legal or moral value and people of Pakistan are simply being emotionally blackmailed in this regards.
Anyway, I have a copy of this one page ‘will’ in front of me and a number of questions come to my layman mind about it. The legal brains might have many more.
The page is handwritten on an ordinary lined notepad paper and is neither numbered nor signed by any witnesses. Though it is dated 16 October 2007, it does not show the place it was written and signed at. The question arises, are the other 16 pages also on similar stationary and handwritten? If yes, are those numbered? If yes, why this page is not numbered and how could one claim it to be part of the overall 17-page will?
There is a strong possibility that in view of the BB’s substantial properties and other assets spread over various countries – Pakistan and abroad - and governed by the different laws of those lands, a great care must have been taken in drafting the will or wills to meet the different legal requirements of each of these different countries. As such, solicitor(s) of great international repute must have been engaged to frame the will or the wills which logically must have been reduced to writing by typing – computer printing etc. and not all hand written by the late BB herself. Similarly, normally such legal documents are on some formal legal stationery such as the revenue stamped papers or the personal/company/family letterheads etc.. The will(s) must have also contained the customary opening phrases like, I – so and so – in complete possession of my faculties and senses --- out of my free will – and without any fear or coercion – do hereby bequeath etc. etc.
If the above is so, then this single page made public cannot be said to be the part of the 17-page will. At best it could be called a Directive or a Memo, addressed to the Pakistan People Party as is suggested by its heading which is also underlined in a typical officious manner. The text of the Memo again leaves me with some perplexing thoughts. For example its opening sentence reads, “To the officials and members of Pakistan Peoples Party I say that I was honoured to lead you.” Why ‘was honoured to lead ’, and not ‘am honoured to lead’? She was most certainly alive when she penned the memo.. Or, was the Memo written posthumously on her behalf and the writer succumbed to the past tense subconsciously, knowing her to be dead? Again its 3rd paragraph says, “I would like my husband Asif Ali Zardai to lead you in this interim period until you and he decide what is best.” Now what is this interim period and who are ‘you’? Apparently by ‘interim period’ she meant the period between her death and some election within the party to decide the future leadership, but who are the ‘you’? Are they the CWC, the central and provincial office bearers or all party members? The memo is addressed to the, “Officials and the members of PPP”. So how can a few present on the 29th December decide what they did? Asif Zardari is not appointed in the memo to be the life Chairman. Nor, was he authorised to pass on the mantle of the Chairmanship of the party to his 19 year old son - Bilawal – in spite of changing his name to a Bhutto. Or, could he?